With the Democratic National Convention wrapping up, and the Republican party little more than a memory of a memory, there is every indication that both parties believe one thing: that Barack Obama has already won, and that the polls are understating the margin by which he is leading.
They were in 2008 — registering a three-point lead, when the final margin turned out to be about 9%. No one is expecting a 9% margin this time around. But many believe that the polls running evens, are really hiding a more solid three-point lead, one that will be consolidated by the campaign proper, and especially the debates.
The wise ones believe this cautiously, the complacent ones believe it utterly, but the important point is that many on the Right believe it too. The thought is driving many of them to a degree of desperation.
Through the course of this convention they have been going batshit insane. With the exception of the — major — glitch of taking out and putting in some bullshit language about God and Jerusalem from the platform, the Democratic Convention has been one of the most kinetic, exciting, dynamic events of recent times. To say that it has surprised everyone, including especially journalists, is to make something of an understatement. It has gobsmacked, it has knocked itself out of the park, it has been a triumph of political organisation. The degree of the triumph has extended well beyond the faithful.
In Tampa last week, Mitt Romney got the lowest ratings in history for a candidate’s acceptance speech, his TV ratings, at 25 million, down 30% from John McCain’s in 2008. Last night, Bill Clinton’s speech beat the football — the first game of the NFL season, leading to the Super Bowl.
The Republicans had some bad luck, of course, faced with the dilemma of a potential hurricane, and they have the potential problem that no one will license them any decent music, or appear on the podium. Nevertheless, everyone who actually produced the RNC Convention should not merely be sacked, but taken out back and shot. I very much doubt that anyone would object.
It was, as all pundits remarked, such a tired, dead complacent event that it actually sucked morale from all but its most delusional contributors. This isn’t a partisan thing — anyone who saw Sarah Palin’s speech in 2008 knows a good right-wing populist speech when they see it, and that one will live in the memory forever. But the secret of Palin’s speech was that it was the inaugural speech of a woman who came from a very complex and pragmatic place, Alaska, a place that still embodied certain features that America once had — a frontierish pragmatism, acceptance, a closeness to nature and manual work — which the lower 48 states had long since lost beneath the miles of malls and exurbs.
But Palin was the only thing in that convention that anyone remembers. And after that, nothing.
The reason is not hard to see. The parties are asymmetrical. The Democrats are a real political party, with all the contradictions that a big umbrella party must endure. The Republicans have become a millennial theocratic cult in the form of a party, a masquerade ball of Jesus, Ayn Rand, apocalypse Zionism and a misogyny that gives the Taliban a run for its money. Yet, like any cult, it is prey not to its best impulses, but to its worst. It is a cult that establishes an ideal America, drawn from the 18th century, a period of substantial communalism and collectivism in every village, town, small city — and applies it to an America where any sense of community has been eviscerated by 30 years of hyper-individualism, in every area, from the workplace to town-planning, this ghastly no-place. The Republicans then cut with the grain — an essentially adolescent exceptionalism, a literal Jesusness that they do not believe for a second, all essentially cultural additives to a daily life that has been hollowed out, a sort of political Prozac.
The absence of any connection to a reality means the Republicans and even their most rational allies float free of any exchange with it. Take a look at National Review this week — it has retreated to a sort of delusional cocoon, under a pummelling from all sides. Obama “decline and fall”? Please. Even their most able satirists, P.J. O’Rourke and Mark Steyn, appear to have largely quit the field in despair. So now, the field is left to the bitter. They try and restrain themselves, but last night with the appearance of Sandra Fluke they really lost it.
Fluke really drove them crazy, because she had spoken a simple material truth — people have s-x, but the consequences are not equal, and if a low-income woman cannot get birth control on her insurance, the consequences can be lifelong. These plain facts — we have bodies, they’re different, get used to it, make minor adjustments to funding rules to suit — drove them, men and women alike, batshit. Ann Coulter tweeted: “Bill Clinton just impregnated Sandra Fluke backstage …”, Roger Stone wished that the late Ted Kennedy had “taken her for a drive”, and the more acceptable ones were obsessed with the idea, promulgated by Rush Limbaugh, that everyone was “paying for her s-x”.
The general tone was misogynist, but it was something more — it was a resistance to human materiality, to the idea of practical politics, that we are here on this Earth and work out arrangements that make life easier, freer, less oppressed by circumstance. For to admit that politics is simply a process of making sensible, practical changes — which is, after all, the essence of Burkean conservatism — would be to admit that some sort of transcendental meaning cannot be found in it, that it will not instantly redeem a society that has become mediocre in education, healthcare, infrastructure, etc, that is essentially the slowchild in the OECD class. When that information starts to creep in from all sides, defence must be withdrawn to a defensible redoubt. The line has to be drawn at, or through, the fertile female body, the boundary of nature, culture, politics and morality, in every society, any time.
Fluke’s cool self-assurance, her quiet confidence, her refusal to buy into special pleading, or exhibitionist, fishnet bullshit, has simply driven the Republican party insane. She is, by presentation, a mildly puritan bluestocking, yet the Republicans — the party whose channel, Fox News, has a female staff that look like the afternoon shift at The Penthouse Club — try and paint her as some crazy wanton.
From Todd Akin to Tom Smith, to the party platform itself, if the Republicans lose this election on the women’s vote, it will be the most deserved loss in history. Tonight at the convention we had Gabby Giffords reciting the pledge of allegiance — which brought a round of applause for a flatscreen TV in a sports bar — John Kerry in a helluva speech asking “is Osama bin Laden better off now than he was four years ago?”, and Joe Biden giving a VP speech defying the odds, the sense that it is ours for the loss is as strong as ever, against the biggest crowd of f-cked-up freaks you’ve ever seen. This afternoon, the Prez himself.
*Jump online for Guy Rundle’s take on Barack Obama’s speech later this afternoon …